Playa del Carmen and Tulum
24.08.2012 - 28.08.2012
We left Merida early in the morning on Friday. We had all decided to stop off at Chichen Itza, one of the new Seven Wonders of the World on the way to Playa del Carmen. We left at 7am for the 2 hour journey. We knew it would be packed with tourists and stifling hot so wanted to make it there before it got too unbearable. With a few hundred thousand visitors each day we were somewhat prepared for the crowds as we entered the site.
We hired a local guide Carlos who showed us around the site for the next 2 hours. It is a really large complex made up of many temples. The main sight is El Castillo temple. The most fascinating thing about this is the staircases are built so that during the spring and autumn equinoxes the shadow of the staircase forms a serpent shadow which links up with snake head statues on the bottom of the temple. Unfortunately we weren't there during an equinox but the temple itself was still pretty impressive to look at.
Chichen Itza has the largest ball court of the Mayan kingdom as well. It was a huge field topped with viewing platforms. There were interesting friezes on the side of the court which depicted ball players using racquets and even some gruesome pictures of decapitated players with blood spurting out. Apparently sacrifice was part of the game played here. It is still debated whether it was the winners or the losers that lost their lives though. We wandered through the rest of the complex seeing Grupo de las Mil Columns, the great plaza, Templo de los Guerreros, Carcol and Edificio de las Monjas while Carlos told us various theories.
By the time we finished it was so hot and humid we made our way back to our air conditioned van in delight. Our next stop was for a swim in another cenote. Ikil, unlike the other cenotes we visited was packed with tourists. While it was pretty it had a very public swimming pool feel about it. It was lovely though to be able to cool off in the water. Once we were all done we headed to a restaurant for a buffet lunch. We then had about a 3.5 hour drive along the Pan American highway to Playa del Carmen.
We arrived there early evening and had about an hours free time before we had to meet for our farewell dinner. About a month ago one of my friends went snorkeling with whale sharks just off the coast of Playa del Carmen, so I knew that it was a must do activity for the spare day we had there. I had done a lot of research so Alex and I rushed off to a dive shop to book a tour in for the next day. It wasn't going to be cheap but would definitely be worth it to be able to swim next to the largest fish in the world.
The Central America tour we were doing is made up of 3 shorter tours so unfortunately we had to bid farewell to 5 of our travel buddies as Playa was the end of the 1st leg. We had a stroll along 5th avenue a hugely touristy shopping street and got to experience the extreme tourist side of Mexico. We then went to an amazing restaurant, Ajua. The food and service was amazing. Cocktails and drinks were delivered balanced on the top of the waiters head and they gave us puzzles to work out while we waited for our food. I had a delicious mixed fajitas with juicy prawns, beef and chicken. We all chipped in for a Mayan Coffee mainly for the show which consisted of 3 waiters, cascading layers of fire and a very tasty but alcoholic coffee. After dinner we headed to one of the many bars on the beach for a few more drinks. There was a live band and the place had a great atmosphere. As Alex and I had a very early start the next morning we headed to bed after a few drinks leaving the rest of the group to party.
We were up at early for our 6:20am pickup on Saturday morning. We got picked up in a minivan and driven for an hour or so north to Puerto Juarez near Cancun. We arrived and had some coffee and cake while we waited in the queue to check in. Just as we reached the front of the queue the lady asked us to wait a minute. Then came the bad news. The port had been closed due to rough seas and no boats were going to be let out today. The seas didn't look too bad but with hurricane Irene off the coast of Florida apparently further out the waves were pretty bad. So bitterly dissapointed we had to hop back on the minivan for the drive back to Playa.
The dive shop was excellent and did a full refund on our tour. We had some breakfast and then went back to bed to catch up on some sleep. We then had a relaxing afternoon having fish tacos for lunch before going to the beach for a swim.
That night was the official start of the next leg of the tour so we got to meet the 3 new people who would be joining the remaining 5 of us. We had a nice meal at a taco place across the road from Coco Bongo, where the famous dancing scene from The Mask was filmed. We then headed down to another beach bar for some drinks. Part of the bar was closed off for a wedding party but we got to see the couples first dance and enjoy the Mariarchi band that played. We then headed up the road to a small bar for some beers. We ended up with buckets of beers but the beers were Coronitas, tiny bottles of Coronas. Yes they were small but at least they remained cold while you drank them in the heat of Playa.
On Sunday morning we had some free time. After breakfast and some coffee we just had a wander around the town and beach. At midday we walked across to the bus terminal where we caught a local bus down to Tulum. It was only about an hour away.
Our hotel was just on the side of the highway across from the entrance road to the ruins. After everyone got settled in we headed to a local restaurant for some lunch. Here I got nachos, the first I had really seen on a menu in Mexico. They were quite nice and the restaurant was fun with the owner giving us sombreros and a gaint Corona bottle to take photos with.
Our guide had found us another whale shark tour leaving from Tulum which would give us another chance to go swimming with them. The weather was apparently better and while it meant another really early start we were ready to give it another go. So we booked it in and got all the details we needed for pickup.
We then headed down to the Tulum ruins. The site itself wasn't very big or as impressive as the other Mayan sites we have visited but what made it spectacular was the views over the Caribbean. From the cliff tops there are old temples perched overlooking the aqua green water and white sands. It was really a beautiful spot. After exploring the site we headed back to the hotel for a swim before we all caught a collectivo into the town of Tulum, 15 minutes down the road.
In town we found a great little restaurant. Once again we were given somberos to wear. I guess it is something to do with being in a super touristy part of Mexico. We had a great piece of fish and delicous stuffed pepper with a few cocktails before heading back to bed.
On Monday morning we left our hotel at 5am. We had to catch a taxi to a resort further up the road for our tour pickup. Now our pickup point was just really a bus stop next to the side of the highway. We arrived early and sat down to wait. After about 1/2 an hour we started to worry but in Latin America, sometimes they are late. After an hour we had almost given up hope and after 2 hours we knew our chances of swimming with whale sharks were over. The transfer just didn't come to pick us up. We didn't have a phone with us and the reception of the hotel was a few kms down a long drive. So we caught a collectivo back to our hotel. The tour agency wasn't open yet so we headed back to bed for some sleep.
We visited the tour agency and luckily the guy that booked our tour was not there. Not very impressed we spoke with the manager and got a full refund. I was really pissed off at their incompetency but all they did was apologise. I guess something in the universe was really telling us that we shouldn't go swimming with whale sharks. I'll just have to leave it on my bucket list for another time.
After our disappointing morning we didn't want to spend our last day in Mexico on a negative note so headed into town for some lunch. We got some fish burritos and fresh limonadas. We then headed to a beach not far from the ruins. It was a stunning postcard beach with white sand, palm trees and crystal blue water. We setup under a palm tree and spent the afternoon swimming and relaxing on the beach. With a few super strong margaritas we had soon forgotten about the mornings troubles.
That night we just had a local meal with various dishes made of tortillas, meat and salad.
We had an absolutely amazing time in Mexico. The people, sights, food, drink and vibe was amazing and I would totally recommend it for people to visit.
Next stop Belize!